I puttered my decrepit Toyota pickup down to the dock. The bed was filled with flats of canned goods, a few portions of frozen meat, onions, potatoes and the laundry. Charlie, my 2inCharge, kicked down the gangway when he saw who it was. I waved and secured it. We kept a 4-wheeled rolling cart near the dock for carrying stuff to the ship. I'd screwed cleats to each side of the gangway the previous year after losing a cart-full over the side. That was a painful surprise.
It was a bit after dawn. I parked the truck and locked it up, then pushed the cart up the gangway laden with grub. "How's the chiller?" I asked. "Fine. It was holding steady at thirty-four degrees at my last check."
The Water Weasel was a converted Naval diesel-driven coastal patrol boat from the 2000's. She'd been retro-fitted with four shallow refrigerated holds and a Gin Pole hoist, both to operate the net and to retrieve the fish from the holds. We'd had trouble with fluctuating temperatures in the rear hold and lost some of the catch two days before. We replaced the hold thermostat and hoped for the best. So far, so good.
We didn't have the biggest operation in the area, but we were comfortable. We used a five-meter dip net off the stern instead of a big weighted bottom-dragger net like the factory ships used. It was a balancing act to watch the depth sounder and work the hoist. We didn't want to foul it on any submerged wrecks or other junk. We worked the flats off of Nantucket and a bit north into the Bay of Fundy. The waters between Maine and Nova Scotia weren't that deep but you still had to be careful when the winds came up. Since we worked a dip net that didn't trash the bottom the Coast Guard was pretty happy with our operation and we were allowed to shallow-fish over several fisheries. We watched our limits and sold prime live catch to the markets in Newport and New Bedford, sometimes on up to Portland Maine.
On this run we decided to run up to Portsmouth, then East between the channels. We planned to be out two days. One to run up the coast and watch the depth sounder, then next night to fish and get back to port. Our ship was big enough to call a live-aboard. We had six individual cabins and a large, comfortable salon fitted out. We had out-sized diesel tanks for our class but still, fuel cost money!
Charlie and I had decided to stay aboard after the fall storms hit. We'd save some money on apartment rent and could get electric to the ship. We'd have to pay slip rental irregardless of being aboard or not. It was still early September so we had plenty of time to prepare.
We'd gotten on station or a bit West of our target coordinates when we decided to do a trial drop of the net. Besides, I wanted some fresh fish for dinner. We dropped clean, waited a bit for the fish to swim over the net then engaged the cable hoist. It seemed to be strain a bit more than usual. Charlie and I exchanged glances. We didn't like surprises. From the wheelhouse I saw the net come into view beneath the surface. We had a nice haul of fish, and something else. The net was angled to one side. Just as the net broke the surface the cable engine began to labor--hard. Charlie shut it down fast. I used my binoculars to see what I could find. Shit. We'd snagged some trash. It looked like a mini-sub or a survival craft, the kind they used on the oil rigs. I couldn't tell in the fading light so I hit the switch for the big working spot lights. It was a sub, bright orange. I yelled down to Charlie-- "We snagged a little sub! I'll get my gumby suit on and grab a gaff. Tie off the net to the stern, would you? I'll climb out and unhook our guest." He nodded and got to work while I set the auto-pilot for station keeping and went below for my survival suit. It's a flotation suit designed for cold water work.
I walked out onto the rear deck, grabbed a fending pole and tied two ropes to my waist. Charlie knew enough to watch and pull me in if I got in trouble. "I'm gonna tie it off so we can see if it's worth anything, salvage wise." He grinned. "Christmas presents?" "Maybe. I hope so!"
I crawled out on the net, holding onto the steel rim as it rocked and spun in the water. I stepped over the side of the net when I was as close as I was going to get to the net. We'd fouled the craft's short conning tower. I could see a hoisting eye about four feet under the surface. I took one rope in my hand, pushed down until I could get the toe of my boot into the eye and pulled myself under. I quickly made the rope fast and bobbed back up to the surface. I held up an arm with one thumb straight up to let Charlie know I was OK. Next came the tricky bit--unfouling the hatch and tower. I had it done in about half an hour, by which time I was ready to rest for a while. I rolled myself back over the side of the net and motioned for Charlie to bring up the net, with me on it. He untied the frame from the stern, took off the brake and brought us up and over the hatch, where I crawled out of the dip net. I didn't want to find myself ten feet below in a refrigerated hold!
We dumped the fish and secured the net. It was time to see what we'd brought up. We pulled the line tight until the sub was along side and secured it. I still had my suit on so I was elected. I dropped over the side on a rope ladder and secured the rear eye. Since I was already down there I spun open the dog on the hatch and gave it a pull. It came away, opening easily on its hinges. It didn't look to be in too bad of a shape. The little sub's paint was clear and there wasn't any overgrowth. The air that puffed up at me wasn't foul. It was warm! That alarmed me. I might have to play medical tech real quick. I pulled a flashlight off my belt and scanned the inside of the sub.
There, fastened to a bunk, was a body. That was just wrong! Nobody went out alone if they had a lick of sense. I clumsily made my way down the ladder in my heavy rubber suit. I managed to free a glove and put my hand to their neck. It was warm. I turned them over in the bunk to check their pupils and breathing. It was a woman! or rather, a girl. An I. V. was taped to her arm. It looked like someone had set her adrift after doping her up. From looking at the clips the bed netting had been secured from the outside.
Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. I pulled the I. V. line and twisted shut the drip regulator. Someone could find out what she was being force-fed later. I climbed back up the ladder and shouted out to Charlie. "Hey! I've got a live one! I need a retrieval harness and a rope! We still got that painting rig?" He took off to the paint locker for our half-assed bosun's chair, used for scraping, painting and patching the outer hull. He threw it over to me. I caught it and slid down the ladder, being careful not to knock my head in. I got her free of the bunk and into the harness, somehow. I yelled for Charlie to pull her up as I guided her away from anything that would knock her brains out. We got her up and over the side. I looked around the little sub. I found the master battery cut-out and threw it. It was suddenly very dark and menacing in that little craft. I carefully crawled up and out of that thing, then dogged the hatch. It was scraping against our hull. I dug up a couple of bumpers and tossed them over the side. I put my weight into a fending pole and the bumpers dropped down between the sub and our ship.
Charlie had her lying down on the couch in our salon. I went up to the helm where I wrote down our GPS coordinates and called the Coast Guard on the ship-to-shore radio. When they found out what we'd snagged and the fact that she was still alive things started happening in a hurry. Well, in a hurry for a sea rescue. We had twelve guys coming down ropes from two big Sikorsky sky cranes within the hour. A doctor gave her a full going-over even though she was still unconscious. He wanted that I. V. bag! A team of the Coasties attached that sub to one of their sky cranes and off they flew. As I watched them fly off in the night I yelled out "WELL, FUCK YOU TOO!"
We went back to work harvesting the night's catch. We were late in our run and had to cut it short to get back to port in order to hit the early fish market. Shit. We'd even missed dinner! Charlie wasn't any happier about it than I was. We only made about two-thirds of our usual harvest and still had our normal expenses.
That morning after selling our catch we headed towards our usual watering hole for breakfast. We weren't in the mood for any 'good morning' shit. We just wanted to eat, pay up and get some shut-eye. One of the other fishermen we knew sat down with us and asked "Who pissed in your beer?" "The goddamned coasties, that's who." "Whaa-" I told the story of our partially-aborted catch. The place got quieter and quieter as people listened in. "We didn't get salvage, thanks, by-your-leave or fuck off. To hell with 'em all! I finished my coffee, slammed a twenty on the table for tab and tip, then we headed back to the ship. I had a long-overdue appointment with my bunk.
On the drive back I glanced over at Charlie. He was being his phlegmatic self. I commented, "I noticed you didn't say much back there." "I didn't have to. You had it pretty well covered." I grinned. We'd been together for over seven years. My dad ran a dry-dock back in the day. When a Coast Guard refit project went wrong and they screwed up several of their Island class patrol boats, dad bought one for its scrap value. Two year's work later it made one doozy of a fishing boat, capable of handling force 5 seas. It was a pretty big ship for two guys to handle, being 34 meters long and having a 3.4 meter beam. We had it painted battleship gray because we couldn't afford waste all our time painting it. After dad died I sold off the dry-dock to pay the creditors and inheritance taxes. The remainder went into the bank as a pad. After five years fishing I hadn't had to draw down on it but for a little. The V16 Cat diesels were thirsty. We were due for an overhaul soon to keep our insurance broker happy. I wanted to stay on the water earning money as long as the season lasted. There was always a market for live haddock and cod.
We were just flat out having a bad day. "Hey, Charlie, you see what I'm seein'?" "You mean two chumps in cheap suits blocking our gangway?" "Yeah. That's what I see too. Can you do with a little excitement?" "Sure. Whatcha got?" "Hold my beer and watch this." "WHAT?" I smirked, "I've always wanted to say that." I stepped on the gas, accelerating towards the end of the dock, carefully gauging the distance to the edge. I slammed on the brakes and heard two splashes as the pickup screeched to rest with the front tires inches from the edge of the raised lip of concrete. I backed up, parked our wheels and used a pole to pull the gangway across from the ship. I pulled in the gangway once again after Charlie and I had boarded. He unlocked the hatch and we went below decks to the sweet, sweet music of two cursing men flailing about in the greasy, smelly water of the harbor. I said "Did you notice the GS plates on their car?" "Yep. Didn't do 'em a damned bit of good, did it?" "Nope."
We didn't see any more idiots around the pier after that. The rest of the local fishermen heard about what happened to us and the local Coast Guard got one hell of a cold shoulder for the rest of the season. The funny part was they didn't even know why. We sure as hell weren't about to tell them that it was their own damned fault. The next couple of months were pretty good fishing.
It was mid-November and the seas were uneasy. It was getting pretty raw and the storms were getting more severe when we decided to call it quits for the season. We got out the springer poles, tied up securely, attached to shore power and water, then restocked for the winter. It was the time to buy books, clothing, food and movies.
It was late one Saturday afternoon just before Thanksgiving. The air in the salon was perfumed with the smell of the beef stroganoff bubbling away in the galley. A heavy storm bearing sleet and snow was driving in off the Atlantic. We were looking through our movie collection to see what we wanted to watch when my cell phone went off. I was about floored. Charlie looked taken aback, too. "Well, ya gonna answer the damned thing?" I sheepishly hit the receive button. I heard a woman's voice. "Ahoy the ship. Permission to come aboard?" "On what business, ma'am?" "Personal business." I shrugged my shoulders. "Come ahead." I headed for the forecastle where the gangway opened up onto the ship proper. I unlocked and opened the hatch to find a wet, bedraggled young lady. "May I come in out of the weather?" I remembered that I was raised as a gentleman, even though it never took. I opened the hatch wide. "Of course, Please come in and be welcome." After she stepped inside I shut and dogged the hatch. She wrapped her arms around me and shivered. Lord, she was cold! I put my arms around her a long, uncontested while, gave her a squeeze and said "You're freezing! Let's get something warm inside you."
I took her by the hand and led her to the galley where there was always a pot of hot water simmering away. "Tea, coffee, hot lemonade, hot chocolate or a hot buttered rum?" She looked at me hopefully. "Hot buttered rum?" She didn't look old enough by five years but it certainly would take the chill off. Hot water, sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and a big jot of rum later we walked into the salon. "Hey, Charlie. Look what a seagull dropped off." He about lost his teeth. "Girlie! Last time we saw you it was out cold on this very sofa! Are you all right?" I was stunned. I hadn't even recognized her. We sat her down and got her around a couple hot drinks before anything else. Then my curiosity got me by the short hairs. "We can't go on calling you Girlie, now can we? What's your name?" She smile. "Susan. Susan Abbott." I retrenched. Okay. "Well, Susan Abbott, what the hell happened?" She shook her head. "I was kidnapped. They were bargaining with our family when you recovered me. Their operation collapsed and a lot of people fell in the shit, including a couple of people at the State Department and some people in Panama." I had a belated thought. "Wait a minute. Abbott. Panama? Your family owns Abbott Labs?" She nodded. "We carry the voting stock." "Well, that clears up a few things. Now, whatcha doin' here in a friggin' sleet storm?" She does that grin so well... "I've got a couple of reasons. One, I wondered why I never heard a thing from you or about you." I'm afraid that I let a bit of my anger show through at being burned. Charlie tapped my arm and shook his head. I calmed down some and my hair settled down. "We got well and truly shat on, that's what happened! After getting you out of that sub and calling the Coasties we never got so much as a 'well done', 'thank you' or 'fuck off'. It pretty well pissed off the both of us but I carry a grudge longer. I'd think that we at least were owed the salvage off that sub for our expenses. It just gripes my ass! And after that, some asshole sent a couple of government goons after us to shut us up. Fuck 'em all." She looked like she'd bitten something bitter. "Bastards. Self-seeking bastards. That behavior's par for the course with my family. That brings me to my second reason for being here. I want asylum until I'm eighteen--that's three weeks." I was tempted to give in immediately but I wanted to know... "Why?" Now she looked REALLY pissed. She exploded with "I'll be damned if I'll be married off to some fucking forty year old lecher to keep my voting shares in the family!" Whoa. Family politics. I looked over at Charlie. "Do you approve?" He replied, "I so approve." "The motion passes by all voting members. Welcome aboard, probationary seaman Abbott. If you so wish to pursue this course, you may begin training for the third in charge position, known as second mate. After completing said training and signing off on all due papers you will be have the right to take employment in a mate's position on any ship of the International Brotherhood of the Merchant Marine. Do you so wish?" She replied with a big grin, "I so wish." "So be it. You will be provided a bunk and chow. You will be held responsible for your cabin, its cleanliness and that of yourself and your garments. After it is safe to show your face on land we will purchase suitable garb for your training, including a safety suit." I relaxed. That was over with. "First, a little history. This ship was decommissioned from the Coast Guard after a botched refit, but they did manage to get the women's quarters and a separate head installed correctly. We'll get you fed and show you to your cabin. I hope you get a good night's sleep because it's back to school for you in the morning."
Come morning, after breakfast, I laid the syllabus that I'd spent half the night preparing, in front of her. She looked at me aghast as I grinned at her. "What, you thought this was going to be easy? Once you complete these courses you will be competent at your job and able to back-fill the rest of the crew, who will depend on you for their lives. Now, some of these follow into natural groups, such as watch-standing, navigation, pilot operations, radar operations and radio protocols..."
Most of it could be done aboard ship, but some courses could not, such as advanced first aid (which we were not equipped for) and swimming lessons, without and with a survival suit. She didn't have the muscle to shoulder away anyone in ship-clearing exercises, but she learned baton-work quickly enough to make me happy. She learned why we did daily push-ups and pull-ups. After she took a good one in the belly during hand-to-hand lessons she learned to appreciate sit-ups, too. I taught her the books while Charlie taught her the personal defense and firearms regimen.
You think we were being paramilitary? Yep, we were. This was the was it was SUPPOSED to be taught.
The next summer a limo pulled up and two big bruisers got out, along with an older guy. Their posture screamed 'muscle'. Susan was in the bosun's chair, dangling off the forward larboard, scraping paint from around the anchor binnacle. It always rusts there. One of the failed fullbacks yelled out to her. "Girlie, where's the captain?" She touched her service .45 to make sure it was on her belt and kept scraping.
It's a truism that for every person above the mean I.Q., there's a person below it. The bodyguard drew his pistol and shot, aiming next to Susan. She dropped her scraper, went to a three-point stance against the hull, retrieved her pistol and double-tapped the first bodyguard. The second bruiser pulled out HIS pistol, fully intending to finish the argument. Susan already had a sight picture on him and settled his hash. She then holstered her pistol and hand-over-hand pulled herself up and over the railing. She notified the rest of the crew and the port-master of the actions taken. Once the port-master spotted the lead smear of the first round on the Water Weasel's hull things went a lot smoother--for us. Her prospective husband was sent packing. The rights of a crew member to defend their vessel at anchor had a long-standing maritime provenance, going back several hundred years. The next time she went ashore for dinner she was given so many free drinks that the attempt to return to her bunk left her in precarious condition requiring aid to climb the gangway...
Sam and Charlie discussed the pros and cons of hiring on another crew member. The maintenance was getting ahead of them to the point that another sailor's upkeep and pay would make up for their expenses in maintenance fees if they were trained in large diesel engine upkeep and general ship-board preventative maintenance skills. It was suggested that they advertise in the Boston merchant marine registry for an ex-Coastie with a diesel engine rating. Bang! They lucked into Lisa as a recent retiree with no known forwarding address. That last was the rub. A provisional acceptance of tender was left at the registry and a note was pinned to the cork board.
One afternoon Susan was studying a table of licenses, then stopped to check the figures on the Water Weasel again, then compared it to the table. She brought up her findings at dinner
"Hey, cap. You checked out the tonnage and capacity table recently? I've got something you might like to see." I glanced at Charlie then quietly said, "Show me." She produced a folio with paperwork pertaining to light-to-medium shipping vessels. I sat there scratching my chin, then pulled out our ship's engineering drawings. We had three holds, ten feet wide, three feet deep and three feet long. It was a strange configuration but they matched the ship's structural members without sacrificing any hull or keel strength. "Let's see, pallets are four foot six by four foot six, figure five feet tall wrapped and tied. If we lifted the hold deck and redesigned the holds and hatches we should be able to carry four heavy pallets, fully protected and in high seas. Let's run this by a marine engineer to check the stress and load numbers."
Charlie looked at me as if I were mad. I shrugged. "It opens up opportunities. We don't have to take out the refrigeration plant and we can refit the stainless steel hold liners. We could carry fish, perishables or cargo."
He shook his head. "You've lost your mind. Non Compos Mentis. Such a shame to see a good man go down like that." I punched his shoulder and grinned.
"Twelve months a year making money, not nine. Up to two tons, maybe two and a quarter as cargoes with us as a maritime courier. As an armed courier if I can swing a couple MA2HB .50 cal machine guns to put back on those pintles." He squinted at me. "That's damned good money if the insurance doesn't eat us alive. This old boat was rated for nearly thirty-three hundred miles range at cruise, and we're running a lot lighter than how the Coast Guard had her built out. Maybe you're not so crazy after all."
I nodded. "Yep, and we can still net fish if business slacks off. We've still got the navigation equipment, the GPS and the radar for deep water." I turned to Susan. "Girlie, you sure opened up a can of worms." Her grin was a thing to behold.
Within two weeks Lisa came aboard amidst the madhouse of a partial refit. The engineers gave the re-working of the holds and rear deck their approval. The lowered center of gravity provided by heavy cargo would add to the ship's stability in rough seas. Once the job was finished and the decks as well as the new, wider hatches were heavily reinforced the primary engineer signed off on the ship's rating to handle a category five storm, which was about as bad as it got. Lisa signed on as their engineering warrant officer as a general gopher. The latter description shared by all the crew. Since she was in dry dock, the ship's general inspection, painting and re certification were taken care of at the same time.
Around about February we advertised for cargo. Some group in the Bahamas were building a luxury hotel. They needed the generator, HVAC unit and walk-in freezer delivered to their newly-installed dock as soon as possible. We stowed the generator and walk-in the holds, while the mostly-sheet-steel HVAC unit was lashed to the foredeck. The HVAC compressor was lashed to the rear deck as far forward as we could manage. Four days of watch-on and watch-off saw the equipment delivered to the customer's dock. We charged for two full refills of the diesel tanks, tied to current market prices. The next month was spent enjoying the weather and selling a few nets full of fish each morning at the local fish markets. Live fish, still squirming, sell themselves.
About the middle of March we took on a commission to move a one-hundred-and-ten foot sailboat from Miami to Pensacola, at the far west end of Florida. We used a small sea-anchor to keep the big sailboat tracking in a straight line behind us. We took our time and did it right. Again, we charged for twice the price of a fuel refill to the full measure.
We slowly but surely got a reputation as a competent, dependable contractor.
Then the typhoon hit.
Haiti was devastated. There was hardly one brick left on top of another after it was all said and done. The Water Weasel steamed into Baton Rouge harbor, cabled up two Mississippi river barges full of supplies and headed out for Port-Au-Prince. They arrived just after the Coast Guard command ship arrived and before the water desalinization ship. The natives had to build the docks before they could receive the supplies. Rather than wait around for the cluster-fuck to resolve itself we anchored the barges off-shore in care of the Coast Guard and went back for two more barges. We did that six times before they ran out of room in the harbor.
We were docked in Baton Rouge, just hanging out after the rush. We were at a cafe having breakfast. Charlie asked "How much are we out after that bit of enthusiasm? Not that I object, just asking." I sat and thought a bit. "Roughly seventeen thousand that we'll never see again. That pretty well cleans out our profit for the month. I'm not worried, though, I've got over a hundred times that on account." Lisa quipped, "On account of what?"
I looked her way and decided to tell the tale. "When my daddy died I inherited the Water Weasel and his dry-dock operation. Taxes being what they are I had to liquidate everything to pay off the blood-suckers." I hooked a thumb over at Charlie. "This idiot followed me when we mustered out of the Navy. We both helped my dad rebuild our ship and learned that we got along together pretty damned well. While we were refitting her we both went through Merchant Marine training to get our civilian papers."
"Now, when cleaning out the various bays and lockers of dad's operation we came across a whole bunch of crates marked with the Nazi eagle. We used a couple of cat's paws to start going through them. We found clothing, books, weapons, ammunition and journals. Those I sold off to the dealers of the time. There were six heavy reinforced chests that I didn't sell off. Once we opened 'em we about shat our pants." Charlie grinned like a fool and nodded non-stop. I continued. "They were full of gold bars, ten kilograms per bar, ten bars per chest. It's all still sitting in the original packing material. Now you know why I'm not worried about money!"
Susan damned near fell off her chair she laughed so hard. Lisa looked at me like I just turned green and grew antennae. Charlie high-fived me.
Now, Charlie was a west-Texas boy. He came from up around the panhandle and was from old oil money. He was the one that taught me to let it sit, as gold only appreciates in value. Eventually I'd have to get those big bars marked with the German eagles converted to less controversial funds, such as South African Krugerrands, but I wanted to stay in gold. Nobody argues with an ounce of gold.
After that Lisa didn't worry about asking for parts, working stock or tool bits. You see, most any ocean-going ship with a military provenance has a mil-spec machine shop and enough stores to pretty well rebuild the engines. When we refit her it seemed too sensible to take out. What were we going to put in its place? a hot tub?
One thing the water weasel didn't have was a big water-maker. We had a little bitty reverse-osmosis thing that needed frequent filter replacement. It gave us about ten to twelve gallons a day, which would keep us alive if everything else failed and we had some spare diesel. However, our main power plants were a pair of V16 Caterpillar diesel pushers, and running at low RPMs kept them healthy. If we ran low on fuel we could run on one engine and extend our range by quite a bit.
We adopted personal radios with headsets. With four people it was getting too hard to coordinate when we needed coordination. Encrypted radios just made sense.
I couldn't help but worry about pirates. Some of 'em would wait until you docked and were less attentive. Everyone on board carried a Glock .40. Everybody had their own stainless-steel pump-action combat shotgun. Each and every weapon bore an aiming laser. We checked the batteries weekly. I asked a few captains about vessel defenses. I lucked into an M79 grenade launcher and a couple cases of HE rounds.
You have to consider your defenses in layers, and in effective distances. Pistols are for on-ship combat or close-in repelling of boarders, as are shotguns. Arguably shotguns are excellent at repelling boarders. However, if your opponent stands off and whacks away at you with military-grade rifles you're screwed. That grenade launcher went a long ways towards discouraging belligerents up to about two hundred yards, but it rapidly became un-aimable at that distance. We really needed a big, old .50 caliber WWII machine gun or two.
[Ed: They called them the MA-deuce, from their military designation of MA-2 Browning heavy machine gun. The MA-2HB added a heavy barrel. The barrels tended to overheat and warp under sustained fire. They could be rate-limited by an internal mechanism (fiber washers), and various other timing adjustments. Some soldiers in Korea, and probably VietNam as well, were known to have used a roll of dimes to deliberately over-cycle the machine gun, to a rate somewhat approaching that of the modern GE electric gatling gun. (mini gun) During the VietNam conflict a marine sniper known as Carlos used an MA-2 with a fresh barrel and a peep sight to kill his prey at a range of over a mile. That's over 5,280 feet. No shit.]
Aboard ship the peep sight is replaced with a disk sight to help to predict the wave motion, much as a shotgun clays shooter or a duck hunter learns to lead his or her target. The use of sparse tracers in the machine gun allows for fast manual tracking but they tend to eat the barrels.
Down in Panama I hooked up with a contact that was willing to provide me with my ma-deuces. I got two of them and sixteen cans of ammo! It cost me a brick of gold with a Nazi eagle on it. He was quite generous, considering he got ten goddamned kilos of gold off me. I also received an M224 60mm mortar and twelve cases of HE ammunition, and what I considered quite a find. He had a dozen red-eye missiles with new batteries and new gas cells (used to cool down the IR sensors just before firing). Some bright boy had adapted the idea that the newer stabilized telephoto lenses used, and adapted a cradle for the missile launchers with its own power cell and gyroscopes. The cradle was re-useable and the battery was replaceable. It made the unit quite heavy, but aboard ship it didn't really matter. All I had to do was to stand up with it, pull two triggers, acquire a sight picture, slap a switch paddle and hang on. We got three of those suckers in the deal
It took our defensive limit out to about two miles for a limited number of conflicts.
He pitched in a half dozen U.S. combat helmets, a half-dozen class IIIA armored vests with trauma plates and a half dozen Gen-3a helmet-mounted night-scope monoculars. They worked very well in contrast against the cold water of the North Atlantic. In certain markets he could double his money with that Nazi eagle cartouche stamped into the brick. I kept the rest of that case on-board the ship, in my cabin.
Once outside the twenty mile limit (during our next shipment delivery) we ran live-fire exercises to familiarize ourselves with mounting, loading and aiming the weapons at sea.
After Susan had tested out of her skills bracket I registered her for her papers. It was with great regret that we had a farewell party and left her at the dock in Boston. She had plans to acquire her MBA and further certifications in forensic accounting. I left her with a pair of .38 +p ladysmith enclosed-hammer pistols along with a half-dozen speed loaders. I made sure that she practiced with her new shoulder harnesses until she was a quick draw with them before she left. I figured that she was going into harm's way and wanted to give her the best send-off that I could. Lisa gave her an M3 medic's bag packed with about a hundred and fifty buck's worth of gear. Not long after that I received a pre-paid order to install launching davits and a small arctic-rated life craft on the forward deck, courtesy of Susan. I guessed that she'd gotten access to her trust fund. It had a diesel pusher, a small water maker, a big fuel tank and a butt-load of survival biscuits. I made sure that the tank was appropriately dosed with Sta-Bile diesel fuel preservative. It was a beauty!
We spent an inordinate amount of money equipping our chart table for our new sailing waters. We couldn't just depend on the GPS like an ignorant goddamned weekend sailor. We were even equipped to pick up aircraft beacons and determine our position from those.
We felt at loose ends after Susan left. She hadn't been with us long but she sure put her mark on us. We were directionless and I had to motivate myself to get us all moving again. I got down and dirty the next time we hit a decent-sized port. I bought a laptop and a multi-function fax/printer. I designed galley stores provisioning lists so we'd know what we had and what we'd need to order, without having to run an inventory but once a month or so. I generated task lists for daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly operations. I knew that my passport had expired, so I made sure all of us were covered. I started medical folders on all of us and made sure our shot (immunization) records were up to date.
It had been a couple of years since the ship had a good cleaning. We locked all the heavy ordnance into the armory and all three of us got keys. We each packed a suitcase to hold us over for a few days. I hired a bonded cleaning crew to steam clean the ship from end to end. The rugs and carpets got taken up and replaced. Whatever needed painting got painted. We bought a new stash of books and movies as well. I advertised with the Merchant Marine registry to fill the second mate's berth. We were in Norfolk, Virginia and it was during the run-up to Christmas.
I spent a few days and nights relaxing, reading the newspaper, taking in a movie or a dinner--all that sort of thing. I spotted an announcement in the society pages. A formal two-hundred-fifty-dollar-a-plate dinner was coming up at Annapolis. I thought it might be a kick to rub shoulders with the formal set. I sent in my check and got my captain's togs out. I made a quick pass through a tailor's shop for a nip and tuck, then a dry cleaner's. I bought a new pair of low quarters and had my cap blocked. I was ready as I was going to be.
The big night arrived. My taxi brought me up to the front door where I paid off my ride and walked in. I was surprised at the metal detector regimen but shrugged and passed through the line. As I was being seated I mentioned, "If I'm paying two fifty a plate for rubber chicken I'm going to be highly displeased." My escort paused and asked "Prime rib?" I nodded. "Perfect. Rare, please." I was seated at a table for eight, next to a Naval Commander and his wife. We grinned at each other and shook hands. I said "Agree to disagree?" I got a wink in response. Next to his wife sat a Coast Guard Commander. After a couple glasses of a watery Beaujolais I remarked to the Coastie, "I'm afraid that your service captains need a few lessons in manners. After initiating and aiding in a rescue at sea of a mini-sub and a live prisoner my ship and crew weren't offered salvage, hi-ho or by your leave. Poor form, old fellow. Very poor form. Reminded me of the high-handedness of the State Department." Everyone at the table inhaled and glanced at the man across from me turned out in an impeccable gray suit. Well, I'd stepped in it. "Speak of the devil?" He slowly nodded. "Look at it this way. You fellows already have quite a lock on rudeness and cutthroat practices. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." He smiled a bit and some of it actually reached his eyes. He tipped his head in my direction. Just a bit. Just a bit.
The dinner was pretty good, but not worth two-fifty a plate. On the other hand the company was interesting. After dinner I spoke with the commanders. I noticed that the State Department fellow didn't stray too far. We each discussed our ships. They were understandably surprised that I was commanding an Island-class Coast Guard cutter that was in private hands. I described our latest refit and bonding over for courier work. I pointed out that we kept our nets so that during slack times we could still make a bit of flush. I noted that it was a long-standing tradition for the United States to run part-time trawlers near the coasts of other countries. I glanced at the representative of the State Department and rubbed my nose. He said "Nope, not us. Blame the CIA. We get called in after it all blows up to sweep it under the carpet." We grinned at each other. All in all it was an entertaining evening. I called for a cab to get me back to the hotel and retired for the night.
Two days later I received a note from the hotel front desk requesting a tour of my ship by the Naval Commander and his XO. I checked to see how the clean-up was proceeding and was told that it would be finished by the end of the day. I called the number on the letter that had been left for me and invited him to the ship at 0600. I specified casual wear to keep down the spit and polish.
I got to thinking about communication and missed opportunities. That day I purchased a satellite phone with modem capabilities. Once I had it in my possession I went to a quick-print shop and had some business cards made up with the sat-phone number on it and my postal box number in care of the First National Bank of Portland, Maine. (my home port) We needed to be a bit more proactive about finding cargo. That meant staying in contact and registering with a couple of shipping brokers.
I got aboard ship an hour early and quickly dashed out a pan of cinnamon rolls. They'd just come out of the oven when the Commander's party arrived. It certainly felt odd receiving a salute from a Commander, but the captain always receives a salute on their own vessel. I remarked "I'll bet it's the first time you've saluted the ship's baker!" I led them down to the galley where we had tea and fresh sweet rolls. The smell of the new carpets, the freshly cleaned passageways and the baked goods put us all in a good mood. After we'd had our coffee and stickies I led the way to the pilot house where I had the ship's plans spread out on the chart table. I flipped between two versions showing how the holds, decks and hatches had been modified. He seemed interested on how the holds impacted engineering space so we took a tour. There was still enough space left to access the shafts and steering gear. His XO remarked that we were listed as an armed courier and he'd seen no defensive measures.